Every January for longer than I can remember, my Around The Bay 30 kilometre running road race clinic commences in early January. My 1st training session with my clinic runners always takes place on the infamous Valley of Death (known as Valley Inn Drive). This January was no exception. We start from the Royal Botannical Gardens and run into the “Valley”. Running it ‘noramally’ (which is to say forward on both feet) is difficult enough. Try it (as my runners do) up and down, up and down, up and down – with NO stopping nor easing off on the downhill. Add to that the plethora of drills I introduce to the mix and you have a next-to-impossible training session. My reasoning for doing this is 3-fold:
- it develops the power endurance my runners require to manage the Bay on race day
- it virtually eliminates the risk of running-related injuries by safely activating ALL of the running muscles (main movers and synergistic support muscles)
- it creates a feeling of confidence and develops mental toughness to push through as the Bay race hits the 23 kilometre mark
Some of the key drills I have my runners perform are depicted in the following pictures. They include the side-to-side shuffle up and down, keeping the hips square with NO hopping motionI then put in the same side-to-side shuffle drill but whilst moving forward up and down the hill. The keys are to push off to each side, land square and drive forward – not an easy process!To test the effectiveness of the drills, I will throw in a ‘normal’ running action repeat every so often. The goal is to ensure that everyone is running the hill with LESS fatigue and NO noise from the feet. It is a key measuring stick for my runners and their progress.I am a stickler for 1-legged hopping drills up AND down hills. Doing these on the Valley of Death during my kick-off training session is a tradition. It helps me determine precisely where my runners are with respect to their overall running ‘fitness’. Needless to say, it is a rude awakening to the rigors of conquering the Bay race!One of my go-to drills that ensures the development of the hip adductors and abductors along with calf muscles and gluteals is the high knee lift side-to-side crossovers up and downhill. These also help improve power endurance.The forward weave drill up and down the Valley hill gives my runners the option of better controlling the sheer grade. They can maintain a brisk pace whilst carving up the hill’s steepest sections without undue strain nor fatigue. It’s a simple yet MOST effective drill that builds more confidence in my runners and improves their quick foot turnover and light road contact.The side crossover drill down and up improves the foot quickness and mid-foot contact point for more powerful, forward-driving action in the ‘normal’ running position. The strides are short and the turnover high with the hips remaining square to the direction my runners are facing. NO EASY TASK! You can see below how some of my runners struggle to keep the hips square.
I usually save one of the toughest drills you will ever do up and down a hill…the backwards run – for the end of the session. This is FULL-ON backwards. No looking behind, no pausing and no bailing out. I monitor the road surface carefully and provide verbal safety cues as needed. My runners are so used to running backwards that I virtually never need to issue warnings. You will note that a few are glancing sideways as they climb the Valley. This is unacceptable and they know it! It only takes one reminder from me to “trust your instincts and focus on balance” to get them looking straight ahead again.
The grand finale before running back to the Botannical Gardens is a fast straight-up-the Valley forward push. This is when my runners put together everything we have been working on during the previous 70 minutes of demanding drills into action. Seeing them run powerfully, safely and efficiently up one of the most challenging hills in southern Ontario is almost overwhelming.If you are SERIOUS about dominating a hilly course and doing so injury-free, you better train on hills like my Team Over The Toppers do on a regular basis. Otherwise, do NOT expect miracles on race day…you will be BITTERLY disappointed!